The Vikings had to set their 53-man roster by 3 p.m. on Saturday afternoon, but there are almost certainly more changes to come as general manager Rick Spielman and his crew look over who is available on the waiver wire and whether there are possible trades to be made.
The Vikings also will begin working on assembling their 16-man practice squad — it has been increased in this coronavirus-impacted season — and likely will have much of that set at some point Sunday. Of the 15 draft picks Spielman made in April, nine of them are on the roster and the Vikings did not cut any players they took in the top five rounds.
However, five of their six picks in Rounds 6 and 7 have been cut. Only defensive end Kenny Willekes, who was placed on injured reserve this week, remains with the team. Look for several of those late-round cuts to be signed to the practice squad. That could include seventh-round quarterback Nate Stanley. It also wouldn’t be surprising to see quarterback Jake Browning, an undrafted free agent who spent last year on the Vikings’ practice squad, return on that unit in 2020.
Here’s a look at who made the roster and a comment on each position:
- Quarterbacks (2): Kirk Cousins, Sean Mannion: Cousins has been an iron man since becoming a full-time starter in 2015 with Washington. His only missed start in that time came in the last regular-season game in 2019 and that was because the Vikings had a playoff position clinched. This season could be different because of concerns about COVID-19. If Cousins gets the virus, Mannion (two career starts in five years) would have to step in. Browning, assuming he returns, would be the logical backup to Mannion.
- Running backs (4): Ameer Abdullah, Mike Boone, Dalvin Cook, Alexander Mattison: No surprises here. Cook, who wants a new contract but will be playing on the final season of his rookie deal, will get the majority of the work and figures to get plenty of touches given his ability to catch the ball. Mattison averaged 4.6 yards per rushing attempt last season after being a third-round pick and could be the successor to Cook if he walks after this season. Abdullah and Boone are capable backups.
- Fullback (1): C.J. Ham: Offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak loves having a fullback in his offense and Ham is about as reliable as they come. His top assignment will be to block for Cook but he also will mix in a few receptions.
- Wide receivers (7): Chad Beebe, Dan Chisena, Justin Jefferson, Bisi Johnson, K.J. Osborn, Tajae Sharpe, Adam Thielen: The surprise here is that Chisena made the roster. The 6-3, 202-pound speedster from Penn State ran a 4.32 in the 40-yard dash as he prepared for the draft and, although he was not selected, the Vikings signed him afterward. Chisena was briefly moved to safety in training camp but was then moved back. Beebe has battled numerous injuries throughout his career but continues to stick on the roster and Osborn, a fifth-round pick, appears set to become the Vikings’ primary return man. Sharpe was signed as a free agent after starting his career with the Titans and there were some who thought Alexander Hollins might beat him out. Hollins, however, was put on waivers and could return on the practice squad. Thielen, Jefferson and Johnson should open the season as Minnesota’s top three wide receivers.
- Tight ends (3): Tyler Conklin, Kyle Rudolph, Irv Smith Jr.: This is a steady group with Smith Jr. likely to take over the top spot on the depth chart. A second-round pick in 2019, don’t be surprised if he has a Pro Bowl season. Rudolph, meanwhile, remains a very effective threat in the red zone.
- Offensive tackles (4): Rashod Hill, Brian O’Neill, Riley Reiff, Oli Udoh: Reiff’s willingness to agree to a restructured contract for this season will keep him at left tackle, starting opposite O’Neill. Udoh has impressed but it appears Hill will be the primary backup, if something happens to either starter.
- Guards (4): Ezra Cleveland, Dakota Dozier, Pat Elflein, Dru Samia: The Vikings’ website listed all of the team’s offensive linemen as either guards, tackles or centers, except for Cleveland. He was simply given an OL designation. The second-round pick was drafted with the assumption he would work at left tackle behind Reiff, or maybe challenge for that job, but Cleveland spent training camp at guard and appears to be well down the depth chart entering his rookie season. Dozier beat out Aviante Collins (who was waived) for the left guard spot and Elflein will move from left guard (where things did not go well in 2019) to right guard to begin this season. Samia is the likely top backup, unless another move is made.
- Center (1): Garrett Bradbury: The Vikings’ first-round pick in 2019 had a rocky rookie season and big improvement will be expected this year. The Vikings waived veteran center Brett Jones, but don’t be surprised if he returns.
- Defensive ends (5): Danielle Hunter, Yannick Ngakoue, Ifeadi Odenigbo, D.J. Wonnum, Eddie Yarbrough: Hunter missed training camp because of what coach Mike Zimmer called “a minor tweak” but the expectation is that he will be on the field next Sunday for the opener against Green Bay. One of the top defensive ends in the NFL, Hunter will have plenty of help from the right end with Ngakoue coming over in a trade with Jacksonville. The trade means the Vikings can use Odenigbo in a backup role and also inside in passing situations, instead of having him be the replacement for Everson Griffen at right end. Wonnum was a fourth-round pick in the April draft and Yarbrough was signed off the Bills practice squad last December.
- Defensive tackles (6): Jalyn Holmes, Jaleel Johnson, James Lynch, Hercules Mata’afa, Shamar Stephen, Armon Watts: Michael Pierce’s decision to opt-out because of concerns about COVID-19 means the Vikings’ biggest offseason free-agent signing won’t be playing in 2020 and that creates question marks at nose tackle. It appears as if Stephen will play the nose and Johnson, a fourth-round pick in 2017, will play the 3-technique. Zimmer could get creative inside as well to keep opponents guessing.
- Linebackers (5): Anthony Barr, Troy Dye, Eric Kendricks, Hardy Nickerson, Eric Wilson: Barr and Kendricks rarely will leave the field and Wilson will be in when the Vikings go with their base defense. Look for Dye and Nickerson to contribute on special teams.
- Cornerbacks (6): Kris Boyd, Cameron Dantzler, Jeff Gladney, Harrison Hand, Holton Hill, Mike Hughes: Hughes, a first-round pick in 2018, is now the veteran of this group. If he can stay healthy, Hughes figures to play the outside in the base defense and could move inside in the nickel package. Hill also likely will start and Dantzler and/or Gladney will play when the Vikings go to three corners. While that figures to be the plan at first, Gladney (a first-round pick in 2020) and Dantzer (a third-round pick) are likely to push Hill for playing time. Dantzler’s impressive play early in training camp caught the attention of many. Gladney is coming off a meniscus cleanup from the spring so it will be interesting to see how that impacts him.
- Safeties (2): Anthony Harris, Harrison Smith: Harris and Smith are outstanding but what’s missing here? Oh yeah, backups! Look for a trade or waiver claim on Sunday after the Vikings decided none of the backups they auditioned in camp were good enough to stick. The Vikings could attempt to cut Chisena, if they acquire a safety, and sneak him through to the practice squad after that.
- Kicker (1): Dan Bailey: The best part of training camp this summer was that you didn’t hear one thing about Bailey. There wasn’t one time that Zimmer expressed his displeasure with his veteran kicker and Bailey will go into this season with zero controversy surrounding his job.
- Punter (1): Britton Colquitt: Another position at which there was no controversy. Colquitt isn’t only a good punter but he also is a reliable holder. That’s a combination that should put a smile on Zimmer’s face.
- Long snapper (1): Austin Cutting: My apologies to Purple Insider’s Matthew Coller and ESPN’s Courtney Cronin, who both are likely very disappointed that I don’t have more to say about the long snapper.
Here’s what the Vikings will do on Sunday to really set their roster pic.twitter.com/CfkqqIsyPO
— SKOR North (@SKORNorth) September 5, 2020